Gophers have plenty to play for in their final WCHA series

The MacNaughton Cup is possible, but so is a precipitous fall when the Gophers play their last WCHA series ever.


Minnesota's Nate Condon and Sam Warning celebrated after Condon scored on North Dakota earlier this season.

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger


A slight thread of sentiment will run through the Gophers men’s hockey team this weekend, as it travels to Bemidji State for its final regular-season series as a member of the WCHA. With the MacNaughton Cup still up for grabs, several players mentioned how sweet it would be if the Gophers could hoist it one last time before moving to the Big Ten Conference.

On the flip side, the No. 2 Gophers are wary of stumbling to a lower seeding for the WCHA playoffs. They are tied for second in the standings, but the league’s top seven teams are separated by only six points, meaning much could change in the final weekend of the regular season. That sort of intrigue feels appropriate, Gophers coach Don Lucia said, for a conference about to say goodbye to seven longtime members.

Lucia plans to maintain ties to Bemidji State — which will stay in a reconfigured WCHA — and to the state’s other three Division I programs, which will play in either the WCHA or the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Those in-state rivalries also are important to Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, who is bullish on the future of the new WCHA.

Lucia said the conference race is the most dramatic he’s seen in his 20 years as a member. Despite the historic import of the weekend, he and his players emphasized they must focus only on the here and now to create the best possible ending to their 61 years in the WCHA.

“We all want to keep [the MacNaughton Cup] here for the last season,’’ junior winger Nate Condon said. “That would be pretty fun for us. But we’re just worried about playing our best hockey. We want to get our game going and play up to the level we can.”

Last Friday’s monumental flop against Denver prompted a rare tirade from Lucia, which remains fresh in his players’ minds. Given their lack of consistency, the Gophers have broken down the weekend into two separate tasks: clinch home ice for the playoffs on Friday, then look at the standings Saturday morning and set a fresh goal.

One point will officially secure home ice for next weekend’s first-round games. Winning the MacNaughton Cup will require dominoes to fall the Gophers’ way in several other series. Should there be a tie atop the standings, those teams would be declared co-champions, with tiebreakers used to determine playoff seedings.

Several players said the Gophers didn’t need the rancor of Lucia and associate coach Mike Guentzel to motivate them. Captain Zach Budish said their recovery last Saturday, when they followed a 2-0 shutout loss with a 5-1 victory, demonstrated how powerful the Gophers can be when they all buy in — something he said they are hungry to repeat. Lucia noted that his best players led that charge, which they must continue to do in the critical games ahead.

“If we can play like we did on Saturday in every game from here on out, I’ll take it,’’ Lucia said. “They have to play at that pace and that commitment level, doing whatever it takes to win games this time of year.’’

The Gophers will play at Bemidji State again next season. Lucia admires its long history of success, and he speculated the Beavers’ program might not have survived had the WCHA not accepted them as a member in 2010-11.

The Beavers, Minnesota State Mankato, Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage will remain in the league, joined by Alaska Fairbanks, Alabama-Huntsville, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan. Like Lucia, Serratore said he is committed to maintaining ties with the Gophers and other in-state schools. As for the WCHA, he anticipates it will endure and evolve, as it has in the past.

“I think it’s going to be a heck of a league,’’ Serratore said. “There’s no question a lot of us were blindsided by [realignment]. But when you look at the teams, there’s a lot of tradition and history, and a lot of success. There will be new rivalries, and there will be a time in the future when people forget about the old WCHA.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions


Buffalo 12/28/14 12:00 PM
New England
Cleveland 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Dallas 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville 12/28/14 12:00 PM
San Diego 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
NY Jets 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia 12/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
New Orleans 12/28/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Carolina 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Detroit 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Oakland 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Arizona 12/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
St. Louis 12/28/14 3:25 PM
Cincinnati 12/28/14 7:30 PM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
TBA 1/3/15 2:00 AM
Toronto 110 FINAL
LA Clippers 98
Boston 88 FINAL
Washington 101
Orlando 102 FINAL
Charlotte 94
Memphis 103 FINAL
Miami 95
Indiana 96 4th Qtr 5:15
Brooklyn 80
New Orleans 98 4th Qtr 0:44
Chicago 106
Atlanta 64 3rd Qtr 2:26
Milwaukee 58
Philadelphia 32 3rd Qtr
Utah 44
New York 2 1st Qtr 10:10
Sacramento 2
Minnesota 9:30 PM
Golden State
NY Islanders 3 FINAL(SO)
Buffalo 4
Detroit 3 FINAL(OT)
Ottawa 2
Carolina 1 FINAL
Tampa Bay 2
New Jersey 1 FINAL
NY Rangers 3
Boston 2 FINAL
Columbus 6
Winnipeg 4 FINAL(OT)
Minnesota 3
Washington 3 FINAL
Pittsburgh 0
Dallas 4 3rd Prd 14:38
St. Louis 2
Philadelphia 1 3rd Prd 11:07
Nashville 3
Anaheim 1 3rd Prd 8:13
Arizona 1
Chicago 2 2nd Prd 13:36
Colorado 2
Edmonton 0 1st Prd 17:31
Calgary 0
San Jose 9:00 PM
Los Angeles
Indiana 87 FINAL
Georgetown 91
Maine 43 FINAL
Seton Hall 72
UNC-Wilmington 82 FINAL
Minnesota 108
Georgia State 61 FINAL
Green Bay 78
Jacksonville St 61 FINAL
Jacksonville 75
Kentucky 58 FINAL
Louisville 50
Northern Ky 55 FINAL
Northwestern 76
North Carolina 89
Pepperdine 53
Santa Clara 60 FINAL
St Marys-CA 73
Oakland 56 FINAL
Maryland 72
Gonzaga 87 FINAL
BYU 80
Mercer 77 FINAL
Georgia 86
San Francisco 77 FINAL
Pacific 71
Wright State 55 FINAL
Ohio State 100
Presbyterian 65 FINAL
Virginia Tech 87
Brescia 42 FINAL
Western Ky 89
Tennessee St 43 2nd Half 2:38
Tennessee 61
Kennesaw St 18 2nd Half 18:30
Illinois 57
Colorado State 24 2nd Half 16:17
New Mexico St 30
Portland 37 2nd Half 11:34
San Diego 37
Wayland Baptist 38 2nd Half 15:31
Utah State 44
Bristol University 39 2nd Half 15:20
Weber State 67
Sacramento St 43 2nd Half 14:30
Utah Valley U 38
Southern Utah 7 1st Half 15:32
SD Christian 4 1st Half 16:30
San Diego St 8
Illinois 18 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 35
Rutgers 40 FINAL
North Carolina 21
NC State 34 FINAL
UCF 27
Cincinnati 17 FINAL
Virginia Tech 33
(15) Arizona State 36 FINAL
Duke 31
Miami-Florida 21 FINAL
So Carolina 24
Boston College 30 FINAL
Penn State 31
(25) Nebraska 17 3rd Qtr
(24) USC 24
Texas A&M 12/29/14 1:00 PM
West Virginia
Oklahoma 12/29/14 4:30 PM
(18) Clemson
Arkansas 12/29/14 8:00 PM
Notre Dame 12/30/14 2:00 PM
(22) LSU
(13) Georgia 12/30/14 5:45 PM
(20) Louisville
Maryland 12/30/14 9:00 PM
(9) Ole Miss 12/31/14 11:30 AM
(6) TCU
(21) Boise State 12/31/14 3:00 PM
(12) Arizona
(8) Miss State 12/31/14 7:00 PM
(10) Georgia Tech
(19) Auburn 1/1/15 11:00 AM
(17) Wisconsin
(7) Michigan State 1/1/15 11:30 AM
(4) Baylor
(16) Missouri 1/1/15 12:00 PM
(2) Florida State 1/1/15 4:00 PM
(3) Oregon
(5) Ohio State 1/1/15 7:30 PM
(1) Alabama
Houston 1/2/15 11:00 AM
Iowa 1/2/15 2:20 PM
(11) Kansas State 1/2/15 5:45 PM
(14) UCLA
Washington 1/2/15 9:15 PM
Oklahoma State
East Carolina 1/3/15 11:00 AM
(2) Connecticut 96
Houston 50
Gonzaga 78
Pacific 92 FINAL
San Francisco 54
St Marys-CA 62 FINAL
Santa Clara 61
San Diego 87 FINAL
Portland 65


question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite Gophers head coach?

Weekly Question





Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters